Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Marty Greenberg and a couple of the others who were clustered in the Kansas City hotel lobby were coaxing me to stay, and one of those (apparent) teen-age graduate students nailed me down with a comment that was clearly intended to lead to a series of questions, “I understand you know Mr. Heinlein quite well, and I’ve just finished reading his Stranger in a Strange Land,” the apparent teen-ager informed me.

And Marty, eager to put temptation in my way, said, “Tell her the story about the Budrys review.”

Everybody seemed to be listening pretty attentively. Robert A. Heinlein being the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, nobody wanted to go home without a few new Heinlein stories to spread around. The one Marty wanted me to tell was a favorite. I had at the time just recently taken on the job of editing Galaxy when Horace L. Gold got too sick to continue, and I had also just made AJ Budrys the book reviewer for the magazine when Stranger popped up. I handed it over to AJ as his first assignment.

I had told him he had a week to do the review, but at the end of the week, and a few extra days, there was no sign of the review. When I got him on the phone he told me that it was a big book and he would need at least another week or ten days to do it justice. That wasn’t really a surprise, or, indeed, much of a problem. I had confidence in AJ’s writing and was pretty sure the review would be worth waiting for. So I pulled a 5,000-word short story out of inventory to replace it, and rescheduled AJ’s first column for the next issue. And when at last he did deliver the review I saw that, ah, yes, no matter what I had expected, there certainly was going to be a problem.

AJ had given Heinlein’s science-fiction novel the sort of close-focused attention that I suppose Bishop Challoner must have given the Vulgate texts when he was preparing the Rheims Bible. It was a splendid review, both erudite and entertaining.

It described all the influences that must have been whirling around in Robert’s head as he was creating the book, as well as everything that could be said about Robert’s background and private life. Among the liberties AJ had allowed himself in writing the review was the privilege of speculating how much of Heinlein’s Naval Academy experience — the discipline, the hazing of first-year men, the prohibitions of marriage and various other distractions affecting young men and so on — had caused Heinlein’s obviously troubled feelings about patriotism, authority and proper behavior.

I was absolutely certain that the readers would love both the book and the review … but even more convinced that I couldn’t allow Robert’s first glimpse of the review to be when, all unsuspecting of what was in store for him, he opened up his subscription copy of the magazine that contained it.

So I pondered the problem for a while, and then I took out a little insurance policy. There were no such things as Xeroxes in our little office so I had my assistant of the moment — I think by then it was Judy-Lynn Not-Yet-del-Rey — type out a copy of the review, which I mailed off to Heinlein, with a note explaining that, due to the importance of this novel, I would like to hear any comments he might have about the review before scheduling it.

And time passed.

I hadn’t counted on this matter taking longer than, at worst, the time that Robert would require to type out a few bad words. I began to worry about that, as it was becoming obvious that the situation was graver than I had imagined. And then a fat airmail envelope arrived in the mail from Heinlein, and for a moment I allowed myself to hope, against all reason, that it perhaps just contained a new novelette that Robert had written just for me. It couldn’t possibly be just bad news in that many typed pages.

It was, though. All of it. Every bloody page.

In his wounded but trying to be fair letter, his tone that of a man who has been betrayed but wishes to forgive, Heinlein asked only one favor. He would not ask me, he said with obvious pain, to make any changes in Budrys’s copy, nor could he request that I not publish it. He asked only that, when that issue was coming off the presses and the subscription issues were receiving their stenciled address imprints, that I send a man down to the press shop to scan the copies coming off the line, looking for the one addressed to Heinlein, R. A. and then to pull it out, take it to a safe place and burn it, scattering its ashes as they cooled, because he did not under any circumstances wish to have any part of that document in, or anywhere near, his home.

That story produced something quite like applause from my audience. There were even pleas for more. I said, “I would love to oblige you. I’ve known Robert since his first sale, or anyway his second, which was to me. Trouble is, I’m getting hungry.”

To which Marty responded, “So are we all, but you can’t let them go without hearing what happened when you got around to introducing Heinlein and Budrys to each other.”

Indeed I couldn’t, and was convinced of it when the hangers-on who had joined the group began to express themselves. I shrugged. “How can I refuse you? All right. It was a couple years later, at the Seattle-Tacoma Worldcon — ’61, that was, and Heinlein was Guest of Honor, just like here. And AJ showed up, and I decided to get the two of them to shake hands. And so I called Robert’s room and, finding him in, told him I had someone I wanted him to meet. The two of them weren’t cordial at first, stiff up-and-down three jerks handshakes, took seats in straight-backed chairs at opposite sides of the room.

But then, after a while, AJ mentioned how much he’d admired Robert’s The Puppet Masters and why, and Robert found something about AJ to praise, and before you knew it — and after they’d detoured through the hotel bar once or twice — they discovered that they had become something close to Best Friends. And they stayed that way for twenty-odd years, until AJ’s medical problems caught up with him and he died.”

All of which again produced from the listening group something a lot like clapping hands, and then somebody, I think Jack Williamson, said, “And now no more entertainment until we can smell food cooking,” and we all got up to move on. I acceded to the clear desires of Providence and tagged along.

To be continued.

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  1. Lars says:

    Not to niggle, but wasn’t it Heinlein’s medical problems that put an end to this friendship? Budrys, as I recall, died within the past half-decade or so.

  2. Barry Traylor says:

    Great story and I am looking forward to the rest.

  3. Robert Kimbro says:

    Mr. Pohl,
    Thanks for these tales. You are a national treasure.

  4. gottacook says:

    “And they stayed that way for twenty-odd years, until AJ’s medical problems caught up with him and he died.”

    But Budrys died in 2008, Heinlein in 1988 – I’m confused.

    (I’ve read Heinlein’s response to Budrys’ review in the online Heinlein Archives – a quite entertaining document.)